Headspun, which is set to release on the 28th of August, 2019, is an independent adventure game from London-based studio Superstring. You play from the perspective of Ted, the rational and analytical Director of Cortex; although Cortex may seem like an office building that recently survived an earthquake, it’s in fact the brain of a man who recently woke from a five-week coma. Ted and his other half Teddy represent the ubiquitous “left brain versus right brain” dynamic made literal, but they must work together to help bring their host, Theo Kavinsky, back to health. As you restore Theo’s lost memories, you slowly uncover the story of his life – and what led to the accident that brought it to a screeching halt.
THE VISUAL CORTEX (PRESENTATION)
First, let’s discuss the presentation. Headspun is rendered in neurological cotton-candy colors reminiscent of brains and veins, so it’s visually pleasing and thematically appropriate. The small environment you’ll experience is a strange combination of sci-fi office building and Geigerish organic nightmare. While this is exciting at first, most of the game is backtracking, and the environment only changes marginally. From time to time, as the game progresses, you will open up new areas of Cortex, but the visual variety is somewhat lacking. One could argue that this is also thematically appropriate, but is it worth it to sacrifice gameplay for message? You decide.
The most unique aspect of Headspun’s presentation is, of course, the gleefully awkward FMV sequences. There is a screen in the Control Room representing Theo’s direct visual feed. Every day, you will look through Theo’s eyes and interact with characters in the “real world” in an attempt to mine information about Theo’s condition. You might enjoy the slight video loop that fills time while you wait to choose your next dialogue, or you might not. You might enjoy the acting, as charming as it is unsubtle, or it might ruin your immersion. I, personally, can’t get Jack Clay out of my head, no pun intended.
As a quick aside, the soundtrack is excellent, though I’m a sucker for synth. However, you’ll want to turn down the music levels in the Options menu as soon as you get into the game. The default levels drown out the dialogue during the FMVs.
THE MOTOR CORTEX (GAMEPLAY)
Dutiful gamer that you are, you’ll want to know about the gameplay. Fortunately, or unfortunately, it’s not much. Headspun is a game that relies upon its story. If you enjoy crunchy math games or games that require quick and complicated reflexes or games that require to-the-number strategy, Headspun is probably not what you’re looking for. Headspun’s actual gameplay, as it is, consists of four tentatively-connected segments: walking around Cortex, experiencing FMV events, doing small minigames for “NeuroCredits,” and managing Cortex using those NeuroCredits.
Walking around Cortex quickly stops being interesting. The designers were kind enough to offer a fast travel option, but exploring is still necessary, especially after a “shift.” Here, you’ll encounter workers you hired, who may have important dialogue to relay, as well as new rooms that you’ve spent time and money renovating. All said and done, it’s not that much of a hassle, but it can drag. The minigames are very simple – which, given the focus of the game, is a point for – and the management portion, especially since I’m accustomed to management games, is also very simple. This leaves the FMV portions. Although they hardly consist of gameplay at all, they are, without question, the highlight of the game.
THE NEOCORTEX (STORY)
It would also be prudent to touch upon the story itself, since the game is dedicated to communicating that story in an interesting way. Without spoiling anything, the piecewise nature of the storytelling is entertaining, if not novel. In a way, Headspun feels like a mystery; Theo, who suffers from Hollywood Amnesia™, must recover his memories one by one while confined to a hospital bed, prying information when he can out of some frustratingly cagey characters. With very obvious themes of alcoholism and discontent, and the looming question of the nature of Theo’s accident, Headspun is often more of an interactive narrative than a game.
The Verdict: Good
Overall, Headspun has something to say rather than something to play. It’s a narrative delivered through fun FMVs with low production value and dialogue that touches on the concepts of memory, personality, and the subconscious. Although integrated stylistically, the gameplay elements – mostly management and small minigames – feel tertiary to the experience. If you enjoy classic, story-driven point & click adventures, you’ll enjoy Headspun.